A baby walker is a wheeled device that gives a baby, who can't walk on her own, mobility. The baby sits in a seat surrounded by a metal or plastic frame that has wheels on the bottom. The seat is low enough so the baby can touch the floor with his feet and self-propel the baby walker. Baby walkers have a long and controversial history.
In their book "Nurturing Yesterday's Child," authors Mary Spaulding and Penny Welch explain that while most baby walkers as of 2010 are circular in shape, in the past, they have had square or triangular frames. Baby walkers were first made of wood or woven willow, until the widespread use of metal and then plastic. Throughout history, baby walkers have gone by many other names, including baby runners, baby cages, go-karts, going-carts, baby-trots, walking stools, walking trainers and crawling chairs.
In Medieval times, some European and Asian religions taught that in order to keep humans from imitating animals in any way, babies should not be allowed to crawl. As an alternative, babies were strapped upright into baby seats and mobile walkers. Early walker devices can be seen in 14th and 15th century works of art including the illustrated manuscript "The Hours of Catherine of Cleves" from 1440, and the "Temptation of Saint Anthony" by Jheronimus Bosch, from the early 1500s.
16th and 17th Centuries
During the Renaissance, enlightened doctors encouraged the use of baby walkers, not to keep children from crawling, but to help them advance developmentally. Dr. Omnibonus Ferrarius, in his 1577 book "De Arte Medica Infantium," advocated the use of a wooden walker as "a learning and an exercising device." Master painter Rembrandt even drew a picture of a child in one in his etching "The Walking Trainer," dated around 1646.
The first U.S. patent for a wheeled baby walker was issued on October 28, 1851 to Euclid Rice. In the Letters Patent No. 8478, Rice declared he had invented a "new and useful machine" that he named "Baby Walker and Jumper Combined." While Rice's baby walker was made of "mahogany or any other firm wood," other baby walkers from the 19th century were made of metal twisted into decorative designs around the baby's feet.
Modern Baby Walkers
In the 21st century, most baby walkers are made of thick plastic and are sometimes referred to as "mobile entertainers" or "mobile activity centres" thanks to the addition of attached toys. Most are circular, but some are moulded into shapes, such as planes or cars. Some even have electronic components, games and lights. As of 2010, baby walkers range in price from £19 to £52, and are manufactured by Baby Trend, Kolcraft, Delta, Dream on Me and Safety 1st.
Baby walkers have faced recent controversy for being unsafe and not developmentally sound. Walkers can tip over, travel down stairs, into pools or bodies of water, and can propel a baby into unsafe objects, like heaters and hots ovens. "The Baby Gizmo Buying Guide" also cites doctors' current belief that being in a baby walker actually hinders a child's ability to walk by strengthening the lower legs while weakening the upper legs and hips.
In 1997, the baby product industry enacted a voluntary standard to widen walker bases and include a friction strip on the bottom to prevent baby walkers from travelling down stairs. While the number of reported accidents dropped following this protocol, it was not enough for many organisations or governments. On April 7, 2004, Canada banned the sale, importation and even advertisement of baby walkers. While they have not been banned in the U.S., as of 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using baby walkers.
- "Nurturing Yesterday's Child"; Mary Spaulding and Penny Welch; 1991
- "De Arte Medica Infantium"; Omnibonus Ferrarius; 1577
- European Patent Office: US patent 8478, "Baby Jumper"
- ConsumerReports.org: Baby Walkers
- "The Baby Gizmo Buying Guide"; Heather Maclean; 2008